“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”
– Paulo Coelho
My book club recently read and dissected The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Over water and lime wedges (turns out that while I’m no longer pregnant, everyone else is), it became clear this writer’s year-long experiment culminated in a “love it or hate it” book for our little critics’ circle and beyond – as all pop culture hits seem to do to some degree. What do they say – there’s no such thing as bad press?
While this book was a slow, underwhelming start for me, suddenly around April (the book and the topics and resolutions it entails are divided into months), it was as if a switch flipped and I was ravenously hooked on this Manhattan lawyer/writer/mom/wife’s musing on hundreds of minor tweaks we can make to our daily routines (no Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage required) to partake in a more fully-examined existence, boost our quality of life, and thus that of those around us. Things like buying the nice $4.00 pen instead of the crappy 25-cent pen that just feels cheap and always runs out of ink. Changing the lightbulb yourself instead of nagging your husband to do it. Listening contentedly to others and resisting the urge to jump in with a competing story of your own. Accepting a limitation (or more positively, my God-given uniqueness) such as the fact that a certain hairstyle – try as I might – Will. Never. Look. Good. On. Me.
I could go on and on about the author’s simple yet pointed insights on things from learning to laugh at yourself and lighten up with your kids, to the liberation that comes from “tackling a nagging task,” be it a cluttered hall closet or a toxic relationship. I was obviously in the “love it” camp.
But the section of the book that provided the biggest “aha moment” for me was about how to distinguish between things I truly want to do, and things I wish I wanted to do.
The phrase “I wish I wanted to do that” resonated with me so clearly. How often do we trick not just others – but ourselves – into believing this forcefully painted picture of our supposed hobbies, inclinations, status, interests and overall identity? Maybe you love the idea of buying everything organic but you hate the sticker shock you experience in the check-out line. Or perhaps you think you want to take a big family vacation every summer, but spending a week with your in-laws/great-aunt/cousins/stepchildren actually induces widespread panic attacks. You wish you wanted to do these things, but when it comes down to it, you just don’t.
True introverts may feel like they wish they wanted to get dolled up and mingle over cocktails and loud music on a Friday night, but what they really want to do is stay home with a book and pajamas, power off their phone and read until their quiet little heart’s content. Can I get an Amen from all the introverts?
As this book goes on to point out, “…relinquishing my fantasies of what I wished I found fun allowed me more room to do the things that I did find fun.”
Being so struck by this notion of real vs. illusory desires, I couldn’t help but make my own list. Without much thought and totally off the cuff, this is what I came up with:
Things I Wish I Wanted to Do:
*Work out more
*Not eat cookies for breakfast
*Play complex family board games (my in-laws are way into games and it’s freeing to admit I could spend the rest of my life mastering Scrabble)
*Chaotic playdates combining two or more of the following: toddlers, junk food, bouncy house, water parks or long car rides
*Camp (as in, outdoors, devoid of proper toilets, with the possibility of bear attacks)
*Go to a grad school (I must face the fact that a few proud extra letters after my name does not a happy homework-haver make)
*Have a third baby (our second is six months old and we’ve hired an overnight nanny and professional sleep coach in recent weeks – this talk is tabled for now.).
*Spend time on my hair (all roads lead to dry shampoo)
*Seek out cool indie music (Top 40 ‘til I die)
*Read classic literature (see grad school reference above)
*Embrace early mornings (maybe this will be The Happiness Project: Age 60)
As I immediately scribbled into my journal upon completion of this hasty (yet pretty darn honest) list:
Wow – there’s such a freedom to just admitting – if only to myself – “I don’t actually want to do any of these things!”
What would you not do, if you knew you could not fail?
Maybe it’s worth cancelling some unwanted plans and sticking around to find out. Gretchen Rubin would definitely give you a gold star for that.
(*featured image by Anne Taintor*)